The banner and atrium in question via Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance. Used with permission.
It’s understandable that, as the location of one of the worst act of terrorism in American history, Oklahoma would have strict laws against even threatening a terrorist attack. It’s just hard to understand how glitter falling from a Hunger Games-themed banner as it unfurls looks anything like terrorism.
Last Friday morning, a group of protestors from Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance and Cross Timbers Earth First! entered the 50-story Devon Tower in downtown Oklahoma City. They were there to protest the building’s namesake, Devon, an energy company that is involved in fracking for oil and natural gas in both the United States and Canada, and their CEO sits on the board of directors at TransCanada.
Two protestors locked themselves in a revolving front door using a bike lock and two others went to the second floor and, from a balcony, unfurled two banners: one in support of indigenous activists protesting energy extraction from their land in Canada and another that had the Hunger Games Mockingjay emblem and the phrase “The odds are never in our favor.”
As the banner unfurled, glitter—referred to by the police as a “black substance”—fell from it onto the ground. One of the activists, Eric Whalen, told KWTV 9 that the “black substance” in question was “simply glitter to make for good pictures and video and to make it pretty.”
A spokesman for GPTSR said that a janitor came out and swept it up, while building security asked the protestors to leave, which they did, with the exception of the two who were locked in a revolving door. The fire department had to come to get them out. All in all, pretty normal sounding end of a protest, complete with some cuffing and trips to the police station.
But before the fire department arrived, the FBI and a Haz-mat truck showed up. When Douglas Parr, an attorney, arrived, the banner-droppers were already in custody. “Police on the scene were communicating with someone off site attempting to find some statute in the Oklahoma anti-terrorism statutes,” Parr told Kevin Gosztola. He is quoted as saying that the police were “trying to figure out if one of those statutes could be applied to the banner droppers.”
Along with booking the revolving door occupants on two accounts of tresspassing the police ended up booking the banner droppers into jail for a “terrorism hoax,” a potential felony. The maximum sentence is 10 years in the state penitentiary, as well as restitution to victim—so, presumably, paying the janitor for sweeping up the glitter.
Obviously that seems pretty crazy just for not properly finishing a banner (with, I don’t know, lacquer?). Parr said neither the building nor the atrium were even evacuated. “To my knowledge,” Parr said, “it is the first time that any of these statutes in Oklahoma have been used with regard to protest activity.” It’s also the “first time terrorist charges” have been “used as a basis for an arrest” against individuals protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.
So where would the authorities even get the idea to charge some Keystone protestors with terrorism? Someone would have to almost have to want to suppress free speech and create a chilling effect on people who opposed the oil company. But who?
Well, two states north of Oklahoma, in Nebraska, TransCanada was providing local law enforcement with information on how to apply anti-terrorism laws to pipeline-protestors. Bold Nebraska acquired briefings given to state troopers and local law enforcement by TransCanada, which explain how to best prosecute protestors including federal and state anti-terrorism statutes.
Will Powers, an occasional contributor to Vice, wrote at Green is the New Red, that, in addition to telling the police how to do their jobs, TransCanada has also been known to hire police officers to work for the oil company when they’re off duty. What’s the word for that? Is it “conflict of interest” or is it just “fucked?”
Gosztola writing for The Dissenter at Firedoglake reports that while the banner droppers were arrested with “terrorism hoax” as the basis, it will be up to Oklahoma District Attorney’s office to decide whether to formally charge them with the felony.
According to the website of the Oklahoma City law firm Wyatt Law, a “terrorism hoax” is “the willful conduct to simulate an act of terrorism as a joke, hoax, prank or trick against a place, population, business, agency or government by: the intentional use of any substance to cause fear, intimidation or anxiety and a reasonable belief by any victim that such substance is used, placed, sent, delivered or otherwise employed as an act of biochemical terrorism requiring an emergency response or the evacuation or quarantine of any person, place or article,” and includes the threat to do such harm.
GPTSR has, since Friday, gotten everyone out of jail and is raising money to cover the bail they paid here. Parr, who has represented other environmentalist protestors in the last year, will represent the Banner 2, who also may be hit with disorderly conduct.